Few fields of reading offer greater general information and wider knowledge of world-wide movements than biography, especially the biography of the leaders of religious thought. If one is to study Mohammedanism, he must of necessity know the life of Mohammed. The Reformation of the sixteenth century centers around a few men, chief Of whom was Martin Luther. Methodism stands for a religious revival with the Wesleys and Whitefield as its center. And in the Wesley family itself we see the mother of John Wesley, no less remarkable in her sphere than her son John was in his. Well educated for her day, she had within her the germ of noble womanhood. Poor in this world's goods, ever overshadowed with debt, with a large family whom she must feed and clothe and educate, she needed her unusual organizing and executive ability to meet the constant demands of her daily life. We find this interesting account in the book, "Wesley and His Century:"
Susannah Wesley . . . would have been a remarkable woman in any age or country. She was the daughter of Doctor Annesley, himself an ejected divine, and a man of ripe learning and good family. The daughter of such a father had a natural bias for scholarship ; she knew Greek, Latin; French ; while yet in her teens was saturated with theology ; reasoned herself into Socinianism—and out of it—and, generally, had a taste for abstruse knowledge, which in these soft-fibered modern days is almost unintelligible.
'She was reading the Early Fathers and wrestling with metaphysical subtleties when a girl of today would be playing tennis or practicing sonatas. While yet only thirteen years of age, as we have seen, she solemnly reviewed 'the whole issue in dispute betwixt Dissent and the Church,' and gravely decided that the views held by her father—and such a father !—were wrong. "When only nineteen years old she married Samuel Wesley; and bore him nineteen children in twenty-one years. She was herself the twenty-fifth child of her father. It was an age of small incomes and large families!"---Pages 23, 24.
"Susannah Wesley was a mother of a very notable type, and her management of her children may well be the despair of all mothers and the envy of all fathers to the end of time. This brave, wise, highbred woman, with the brain of a theologian behind her gentle eyes, and the tastes of a scholar in her blood, had great ideals for her children. They should be gentlefolk, scholars, Christians. Her motherhood had an inexorable plan running through it ; and never were the innumerable offices of a mother discharged with such insistent method and intelligent purpose. The whole household life moved as if to a timetable. The very sleep of the children was measured to them in doses. As each child reached a certain fixed date in its life, it was required, within a certain specified time, to learn the alphabet.
"This wise mother understood that the will lies at the root of the character, and determines it. The Wesley household was richly endowed in the matter of will; so the first step in each child's education was to bring that force under government. It was a standing and imperative rule that no child was to have anything it cried for, and the moral effect on the child's mind of the discovery that the one infallible way of not getting a desirable thing was to cry for it must have been surprising.
"The children were taught to be courteous in speech; to cry softly when it was necessary to cry at all—and sometimes this best of all mothers supplied her children with excellent reasons for crying.
"Mrs. Wesley carried her principle of method and a timetable into the realm of religion. She began surprisingly early. 'The children were early made to distinguish the Sabbath from other days, and were soon taught to be still at family prayers, and to ask a blessing immediately afterwards, which they used to do by signs, before they could kneel or speak!' The cells of each infantile brain were diligently stored with passages of Scripture, hymns, collects, etc. Prayer was woven into the fabric of every day's life. The daily lesson of each child was set in a framework of hymns. Later, certain fixed hours were assigned to each member of the household, during which the mother talked with the particular child for whom that hour was set aside. It is probable that those rigors of introspection, that severity of self-analysis, which formed the habit of Wesley's life in after-years had their origin in those Thursday interviews which Mrs. Wesley had with 'Jackie. "—Id., pp. 28, 29.
But even though we may challenge some of Mrs. Wesley's methods, there developed under her calm eye and adamant will men who live in the hearts of millions, Charles Wesley wrote some of the most prized of all hymns, remarkable for their lyrical sweetness and deep piety. John and Charles Wesley became great religious leaders, breaking away from the established Church of England; while Samuel, the eldest of the boys, ever remained with the state church. It was to Samuel, in 1709, that the mother -wrote the following letter, which may be read with profit by ministers. It is a classic for clearness, and its counsel and advice are as valuable today as when written.
Susannah's Letter to Her Son
"My Dear Sammy: I hope that you retain the impressions of your education, nor have forgot that she vows of God are upon you. You know that the first fruits are Heaven's by an unalienable right, and that, as your parents devoted you to the service of the altar, so you yourself made it your choice when your father was offered another way of life for you. But have you duly considered what such a choice and such a dedication imports? Consider well what separation from the world, what purity, what devotion, what exemplary virtue, are required in those who are to guide others to glory!
"I say exemplary; for low, common degrees of piety are not sufficient for those of the sacred function. You must not think to live like the rest of the world; your light must so shine before men that they may see your good works, and thereby be led to glorify your Father which is in heaven. For my part, I cannot see with what face clergymen can reprove sinners, or exhort men to lead a good life, when they themselves indulge their own corrupt inclinations, and by their practice contradict their doctrine. If the Holy Jesus be indeed their Master, and they are really His ambassadors, surely it becomes them to live like His disciples; and if they do not, what a sad account they give of their stewardship.
"I would advise you, as much as possible in your present circumstances, to throw your business into a certain method, by which means you will learn to improve every precious moment, and find an unspeakable facility in the performance of your respective duties. Begin and end the day with Him who is the Alpha and Omega, and if you really experience what it is to love God, you will redeem all the time you can for His more immediate service.
"I will tell you what rule I used to observe when T. was in my father's house, and had as little, if not less, liberty than you have now. I used to allow myself as much time for recreation as I spent in private devotion : not that I always spent so much, but I gave myself leave to go so far, but no farther. So in all things else, appoint so much time for sleep, eating, company, etc., but above all things, my dear Sammy, I command you, I beg, I beseech you, to be very strict in observing the Lord's day. In all things endeavor to act on principle, and do not live like the rest of mankind, who pass through the world like straws upon a river, which are carried which way the stream or wind drives them. Often put this question to yourself : Why do I do this or that? Why do I pray, read, study, or use devcuion, etc.? By which means you will come to such a steadiness and consistency in your words and actions as becomes a reasonable creature and a good Christian,
"Your affectionate mother,